The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Natural Gas and the U.S. Model for ‘Decoupling’

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted April 11, 2016

The New York Times published an important analysis last week, recognizing something critically important: the reality that a nation with an advanced, growing economy may also see its carbon emissions decline.

Last year the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that in 2014, for the first time in 40 years, as global GDP grew, global carbon emissions leveled off. But that was just the start. The Times’ Coral Davenport writes:

Economists got excited, but they also acknowledged that it could have been an anomalous blip. But a study released by the International Energy Agency last month found that the trend continued in 2015. In another study published on Tuesday, Nathaniel Aden, a research fellow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, found that since the start of the 21st century, 21 countries, including the United States, have already fully decoupled their economic growth from carbon emissions. In those countries, while G.D.P. went up over the past 15 years, carbon pollution went down.

The Times' chart:

decoupling

Two questions posed by the Times: How to explain a departure from the historical linkage between economic growth and increased carbon emissions? And, can the decoupling of economic growth and rising emissions be a model for the rest of the world?

The explanation isn’t all that complicated. We’ve talked about it for a number of months (see here and here). It’s natural gas. The increased use of clean-burning, domestically produced natural gas is the main reason the United States leading the world in reducing carbon emissions during a period of economic growth. The Times agreed:

In the United States, the decoupling of emissions and economic growth was driven chiefly by the boom in domestic natural gas …

This is the leading edge of a big energy trend in the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that abundant, affordable natural gas – developed with safe hydraulic fracturing and modern horizontal drilling – for the first time will be the United States’ No. 1 fuel source for electricity generation this year. This is helping reduce emissions and also increasing household disposable income through lower energy costs.

It’s also the key factor to a decoupling trend in the U.S. industrial sector, the Times reports, citing a World Resources Institute study finding that between 2000 and 2014, energy-related CO2 emissions dropped 16 percent in the U.S. industrial sector while economic activity increased 9 percent.

Group us with those who don’t need convincing that this U.S. model works for America, and that it can be a model for other countries. It’s a solution right at nations’ feet, for energy, economic growth and emissions reductions. Nations do not have to sacrifice economic growth to advance climate goals.

As we say, we’ve been suggesting the U.S. model as a blueprint for climate action for some time. It certainly looks like an idea that’s gaining traction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.